Vodacom has announced it will enlist the aid of community members to protect its cellphone towers from vandalism and battery theft.
“Vodacom is pioneering a new model to clamp down on incidents of battery theft in its base stations by engaging community members working with police to serve as monitoring personnel to help safeguard its sites – especially in areas where the telco is being hard hit,” Vodacom said.
“This approach forms part of measures Vodacom is rolling out to secure its sites as incidents of site vandalism and battery theft keep on rising.”
Vodacom said that incidents of base station vandalism have gotten significantly worse over the last few years due to the involvement of organised syndicates which are constantly finding new ways to commit this type of crime.
It is estimated that local cellphone network providers lose hundreds of millions of rand’s worth of damage to their base stations annually because of theft and vandalism, a loss which ultimately impacts the cost of mobile services.
Vodacom is set to spend R1 billion in the current financial year on improving its network’s ability to cope with load-shedding and electricity blackouts, and much of this investment will be used to improve security around base stations.
“In the case of Vodacom, there has been a significant year-on-year increase in the number of battery thefts in our base stations, with the average increase at around 35%,” Vodacom said.
“For instance, on average 600 incidents per month are recorded where sites have been impacted by theft or damage.”
The mobile operator is losing between R120-R130 million to vandalism and theft each year.
“Nonetheless, we are not sitting on our laurels and are fighting back by coming up with innovative measures to stem the tide of battery theft,” Vodacom said.
Vodacom Group chief risk officer Johan van Graan said that to combat battery theft and vandalism in remote areas, local members of the community would have to be enlisted to help fight this crime.
“Our security teams on the ground have observed that quite often syndicates target base stations in far-flung and secluded areas because they know it will take police a long time to react,” van Graan said.
“Hence, our sites in remote areas are repeatedly hit. We are responding to this by testing a new model to secure these sites by forging partnerships with members of the community.”
“As part of this new model, we recruit local people to serve as monitoring personnel to be our eyes and ears on the ground and provide us critical information police can use to effect arrests,” he said.
He said that Vodacom provides these people with the necessary training and accreditations, as well as linking them to local police to provide support when arrests take place.
This project has been extremely effective in cutting down on vandalism and battery theft.
“Because Vodacom has enlisted services of local people to secure its sites, in sites that used to be hit every month, break-ins have now been reduced substantially,” van Graan said.
“This demonstrates that the number one line of defence against site vandalism is the local community and vigilant community members who report incidents of battery theft or site vandalism to police.”
Effect on customers
When mobile operators suffer vandalism to their infrastructure or theft of batteries at base stations, this can have a detrimental effect on customers.
“Vandalism and battery theft is bad for us and our customers as it cuts off our customers from the network and is proving to be costly for us,” van Graan said.
He added that each theft incident can result in the network in that area being down for days, which severely impact businesses and other customers.
“For a country like South Africa, which is currently on lockdown and the only way of connecting with loved ones spread across the country is via the cellphone, it can be stressful to not be able to reach loved ones because batteries in the base station near you have been stolen.”
Vodacom said that it continues to work with law enforcement agencies and security companies to arrest thieves.
The mobile operator also appealed to the public to report suspicious behaviour around its base stations to the police.
“It is in everyone’s best interest to act before their signal is cut off,” Vodacom said.
Members of the community can report incidents by calling Vodacom’s toll-free number on 082 241 9952 or SAPS on 10111.